Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google's Fast Flip or Fast Flop?

Fast Flip is an evolutionary step ahead in browsing for information. To determine if this is going to be a winner, we need to determine if Fast Flip is going to be a win-win-win for readers, publishers, and Google itself.

Who is the target audience?

Fast Flip is similar to a RSS feed reader except that you can also see the page as the website intended you to see it. If you don't care about the visual factor and any formatting is good enough for you, then Fast Flip provides no additional advantage. If you already have a feed reader, would you use Fast Flip? Not likely. So the target audience is mostly consumers who do not use a RSS feed readers - and that is the majority of the internet users.

Is it a win-win-win?

Consumers are certainly pressed for time. They would prefer any service that would eliminate the need for them to visit multiple websites. That's why News aggregators such as Yahoo news, Google news are popular. It gives them a quick overview of the day's news. If users want to know more about an article, they click. So what's the problem that Fast Flip is trying to solve? Is it that people are frustrated about slow websites? This was a problem a decade ago. Most people have broadband now. So the claim that websites are slow doesn't seem to make sense, or does it? We will revisit this a little later.

There is one interesting use case where the slowness becomes apparent. If there is an extremely popular article that everybody wants to read now but the source website can't handle the traffic, then a service such as Fast Flip backed by Google can enable users to read the story without experiencing any delay. In this case, it's a win-win-win for readers, publishers, and Google. But this is such a rare event. Clearly, Google is not banking on this use case for its service.

However, generalizing the above idea raises an interesting thought. What if the publishers "outsource" hosting of their content to Google Fast Flip - not as in web hosting, but in caching the image of their web page? Since most readers flip through information, why waste bandwidth and hosting resources on consumers that simply spend 20 seconds or less on a website. They don't even look at the ads, let alone click on them. However, the users that click through Fast Flip are the truly interested ones. To the publishers, this is the subset of readers that are of high value - they come to the site and stay longer. Displaying ads to this audience can command a much higher premium. Even though the participating websites will see a decline in traffic, the quality of the traffic will increase and thus drive their ad revenues higher. Given that Google is sharing revenue with participating web sites, the revenues are still coming in but slightly less. This is the cost of "outsourcing" the content to Google. But this will be offset by a reduction in infrastructure costs. Overall, it will benefit the publishers, but only if they transfer a significant chunk of their traffic to Google Fast Flip.

In short, Google wants to keep the low value but large number of visitors on Fast Flip, but send the fewer but higher value visitors to the participating website. Is this a good deal for the publishers?

Now let's revisit the "problem" of a website being slow. Given that most consumers spend no more that 20 seconds on a web page, a 10 second staggered wait time to fully load the web page is not uncommon these days. And that's 50% of a visitor's attention to a website. And that's is indeed too long! Fast Flip solves this problem and removes 50% of a reader's time and that is indeed huge. So assuming the content is deep, users will indeed opt to use Fast Flip. I can even see the standard Google search results being replaced by Fast Flip one day.

Thus Fast Flip seems to be a win-win-win for all, consumers, publishers, and Google. It does seem to make business sense. Will it work out? Only time will tell.